The Chicago Blackhawks haven’t had a ton of great prospect stories in recent years, but one player who has consistently raised his stock is defenseman Gustav Forsling. Ever since the Hawks acquired Forsling from Vancouver in early 2015 in exchange for Adam Clendening, he’s steadily won over skeptics and become one of the better defenseman prospects in hockey.
Now getting the chance at an NHL roster spot during training camp this year, the 20-year-old will look to show that he can be the next big thing on the blue line in Chicago. He’ll return to Sweden for one more year if he misses out, but no matter what, Forsling should be a big chance with the Hawks sooner or later.
Birth date: June 12, 1996
Acquired via: Trade with Canucks (Jan. 29, 2015 for Adam Clendening)
Most recent stop: Linkopings HC (SHL)
Size: 5’11, 186 pounds
Contract: ELC ($872.5K AAV, European Assignment Clause, expires 2019)
Just on skill alone, Forsling is easily the best defenseman prospect in the Hawks’ system. He’s a power play dynamo who has the vision, intelligence and passing ability to be a real playmaker on the backend.
Forsling played a major role for Linkopings HC in the SHL last season, where he was very good with 21 points in 48 games. He also continued that success in the World Junior Championship with three points in six games for Sweden, showing steady progress from the lean, relatively raw place he was in a couple years ago.
That frame remains somewhat slight at this point -- both ESPN’s Corey Pronman and Hawks assistant GM Norm Maciver noted he needs to get stronger — but those physical question marks are the biggest things holding him back. He still has trouble winning puck battles at the boards sometimes because of that relative weakness, which is just one example of why Forsling filling out his frame will be a top priority for his development.
But the ceiling is high for Forsling, especially on offense, if he can spent a little more time in the weight room. He’s already exceptional in many areas of the game, and even has a pretty impressive slapper for someone his size:
For a Blackhawks team that tends to lean heavily on Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to provide that backend punch on the power play, having another dangerous option like Forsling to add to the mix would be welcomed.
There are still some areas where Forsling needs to continue improving, though, and getting a tad stronger will help expedite that process. He may never be a big-time shutdown defenseman, but the ceiling is high as a more offensive-minded blue liner.
What’s next for 2016-17
Forsling enters training camp in Chicago as a relative long shot to make the opening day roster. While GM Stan Bowman said recently that Forsling could still make the team, it’s hard not to look at the depth chart and wonder how he’ll break through. With as many as six or seven guys competing for those final three spots on the roster, Forsling would have to really blow the team away.
That’s partially because of his European Assignment Clause, which means he’ll return to Linkopings HC for one more year if he fails to make the Blackhawks out of camp. One could argue that might give Chicago extra incentive to just keep him around, but Forsling’s agent has indicated in the past that his client’s contract would “slide” if he goes back to Sweden. In other words, Forsling’s entry-level contract, which he signed earlier this year, wouldn’t go into effect until the 2017-18 season. The Hawks might prefer that in order to bump his free agency back another year.
But there’s still the small possibility that Forsling is so, so good at camp that the Hawks can’t justify keeping him off the roster. In that case, you’d likely see a trade before the start of the season to clear a roster spot for him given that many of the guys he’s competing against are no longer waiver-exempt.
So Forsling may or may not be in Chicago this season, but we won’t have to wait more than one more year. If he cracks this team out of camp, you should take that as a pretty strong endorsement.
Second City Hockey's Top 25 Under 25 rankings
No. 3: Gustav Forsling
No. 4: Alex DeBrincat
No. 5: Ville Pokka
No. 6: Ryan Hartman
No. 7: Vincent Hinostroza
No. 8: Tyler Motte
No. 9: John Hayden
No. 10: Mark McNeill
No. 11: Fredrik Olofsson
No. 12: Chad Krys
No. 13: Erik Gustafsson
No. 14: Luke Johnson
No. 15: Tanner Kero
No. 16: Artur Kayumov
No. 17: Carl Dahlstrom
No. 18: Dennis Gilbert
No. 19: Luc Snuggerud
No. 20: Robin Norell
No. 21: Robin Press
No. 22: Dylan Sikura
No. 23: Graham Knott
No. 24: Anthony Louis
No. 25: Roy Radke
Honorable mentions: Radovan Bondra, Joni Tuulola, Mathias From, John Dahlstrom, Lucas Carlsson